Archive for the ‘United States’ Category

West Virginia school workers defied the authorities and their own union leaders – as a result they won an important victory

by The Spark

Over 20,000 West Virginia public school teachers and 13,000 school employees will get 5 percent raises, starting in July of 2018. How did this happen?

A strike that started in a few southern coal mining counties caught fire. It was joined by other workers and became a state-wide strike. Every public school in West Virginia was closed for 9 days.

In this state where public employees have no collective bargaining rights, over 30,000 people “bargained” by not going to work. They gathered by the thousands each day at the state capitol and decided together when they would go back to work.

Rank-and-file teachers made sure their strike was well organized. When union officials announced a tentative “deal” with the governor, teachers organized themselves to not go back to work. They had no trust in the politicians and wanted everything in writing.

Many teachers had not wanted to (more…)


by Phil Duncan

Teachers and school service workers in the US state of West Virginia are currently setting an example for workers across North America – and here in New Zealand – with a massive ‘wildcat’ strike.  These public employees are defying the bosses (the local state government and governor), the law and the top bureaucrats in their own union.

The workers’ industrial action has been in pursuit of not just their 5% pay claim, but also around worsening living standards due to high insurance and other ‘out-of-pocket’ costs. Teachers in the state are among the lowest-paid educators in the country – West Virginia ranks 48th out of 50 states in terms of teacher pay.  The last time the state’s 20,000 teachers and 15,000 school service workers got a pay rise was four years ago.

They have also been facing rising insurance costs – like other public employees, they pay into the PEIA (Public Employees Insurance Agency) and the premiums have been rising as faster rates than pay has been increasing, thus depressing their actual take-home pay.

As one of the striking teachers reports, “Even with a master’s degree plus 45 credits and 15 years of teaching experience, I bring home an estimated (more…)

Our 1968 coverage continues although, strictly speaking, this is October 1967. . .

Che was executed without trial in Bolivia on October 9, 1967.  The Cuban leadership declared 1968 “The Year of the Heroic Guerrilla” and supported revolutionary movements throughout Latin America in particular.  Che’s reputation, already very high among newly-radicalising young people around the world, grew significantly in 1968.

Below is the speech about Che delivered on October 18, 1967 by Fidel Castro to a rally of several hundred thousand people in Havana.

I first met Che one day in July or August 1955. And in one night — as he recalls in his account — he became one of the future Granma expeditionaries, although at that time the expedition possessed neither ship, nor arms, nor troops. That was how, together with Raúl, Che became one of the first two on the Granma list. 

Twelve years have passed since then; they have been 12 years filled with struggle and historical significance. During this time death has cut down many brave and invaluable lives. But at the same time, throughout those years of our revolution, extraordinary persons have arisen, forged from among the people of the revolution, and between them, bonds of affection and friendship have emerged that surpass all possible description. 

Tonight we are meeting to try to express, in some degree, our feelings toward one who was among the closest, among the most admired, among the most beloved, and, without a doubt, the most extraordinary of our revolutionary comrades. We are here to express our feelings for him and for the heroes who have fought with him and fallen with him, his internationalist army that has been writing a glorious and indelible page of history.

Che was one of those people who was liked immediately, for his simplicity, his character, his naturalness, his comradely attitude, his personality, his originality, even when one had not yet learned of his other characteristics and unique virtues.

In those first days he was our troop doctor, and so the bonds of friendship and warm feelings for him were ever increasing. He was filled with a profound spirit of hatred and contempt for imperialism, not only because his political education was already considerably developed, but also because, shortly before, he had had the opportunity of witnessing the criminal imperialist intervention in Guatemala through the mercenaries who aborted the revolution in that country.

A person like Che did not require elaborate arguments. It was sufficient for him to know Cuba was in a similar situation and that there were people determined to struggle against that situation, arms in hand. It was sufficient for him to know that those people were inspired by genuinely revolutionary and patriotic ideals. That was more than enough.

One day, at the end of November 1956, he set out on the expedition toward  (more…)

Michael Wolff, Fire and fury: inside the Trump White House, Little, Brown 2018, pp336, retailing for $NZ34 at  The Warehouse and just over $2o from the Book Depository (free delivery); reviewed by Paul Demarty

The appearance of Michael Wolff’s extraordinary account of Donald Trump’s presidency has already become the pre-eminent succès de scandale of 21st century letters thus far.

The White House response has been trenchant and hysterical, with the president denouncing it as a complete fiction, and the latest in what the book reminds us is a long line of press secretaries reinforcing the condemnation. Legal action is threatened against Wolff, publisher Henry Holt and – not uninterestingly – Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon. It is surely more than mere gratitude that led Wolff to thank in his acknowledgements, pointedly, the libel lawyer he hired to give Fire and fury a once-over. The truth is that Trump has blundered directly into what is now called the ‘Streisand effect’, whereby attempts to suppress some item cause it to spread more rapidly among outraged enemies.1 Even British readers, whose much trumpeted national veneration of liberty reaches no further than the door of the libel courtroom, will benefit from the samizdat PDFs circulating online once Trump’s legal team cast an eye over the Atlantic in pursuit of a cheap victory.


What we find, in whatever format, is a very peculiar book, albeit compulsively readable, droll and frankly horrifying. The sourcing of various anecdotes in here is a particular problem, to which we shall return; certainly, there is a great deal of eyebrow-raising material, which will be confirmed or refuted in the coming months and years. If even a third of it is true, however, Americans are living through some of the most preposterous events in modern political history. Certainly, those looking for evidence that Trump is not what he often appears to be in the presentation of his hated enemies in the media – a narcissistic, vindictive man-child, a demonic cross between King Joffrey of Game of Thrones and (more…)

Being arrested for union organising, Minneapolis 1934

One of the most important battles fought by workers in the United States in the 1930s was waged by the Teamsters Union in Minneapolis.  Through a series of fights, Minneapolis was converted into a union town and the Teamsters were able to spread organising across the Mid-West.  At the heart of the working class struggle in Minneapolis were a group of teamsters who were union militants and Marxists.  One of the most prominent of these was Vincent Raymond Dunne (1889-1970).  Dunne later spent 16 months in jail for opposition to WW2.

Recently, long-time left-wing activist Howard Petrick, a former anti-Vietnam War GI, produced a play on Dunne and his life. 

by Barbara Gregorich

Howard Petrick’s one-man play, Fight for 52 Cents, is set in 1969, with Vincent Ray Dunne speaking to a meeting. With this as the framing device, Dunne tells his younger-generation audience about his life — the lessons he learned in helping lead the working class in its struggle for better living conditions and why he became a communist.

Howard Petrick as V.R. Dunne

As written and performed by Petrick, Fight for 52 Cents is a well-structured play that treats the audience to the story of Dunne’s life: what events were significant to him, and why; how these events helped shape him and allowed him to stand on a strong foundation.

Childhood experiences

The first event Dunne speaks about is that when he was five years old, his father, who was a street-car conductor in Kansas City, fell into a hole and broke both legs. Because of this accident, his father was not able to work. There was no such thing as workman’s compensation in 19th century United States. Dunne experienced this grave injustice first-hand: the five-year-old child saw that his father was injured and as a result the company he worked for dropped him from existence. The Dunne family was forced to (more…)

While the United States is the richest country in the world, in 49 of the 50 states there are no limits on how many patients corporate hospitals can assign to nurses at any one time.  Bonnie Castillo, director of health & safety at National Nurses United, the main union covering reigstered nurses, has noted, “With the boom in assembly lines during the industrial revolution, employers were able to move products faster, using less staff, padding their bottom line. As I’ve written before, we’ve all seen pop culture comedy examples of what happens next, when profit-driven corporations speed up the pace faster and faster — until a character like Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times works so frantically that he falls right into the machine, getting ground up in the gears.

“Our patients are not products, and nurses are not assembly line workers — but you would not know that by the frantic pace at which our hospital employers, who currently have no repercussions for saving money by cutting corners on safe staffing, expect nurses to provide care. When we are saddled with 9 or 10 patients at once, we are not practicing at our full capacity, and the repercussions for our patients, who come to us with illnesses and injuries where every moment of attention counts, include loss of life. . .”  (see, here.) 

In the article below, a nurse in the USA outlines a day in her working life.  While the article comes from the United States, the working day it outlines is relevant to many nurses working in hospitals in New Zealand. 

by Kyu Nam

The floor is chaos.

Not enough nurses on shift. Julia* called out sick this morning and an RN from 7 West who put in for overtime ended up a no-show. Our manager isn’t around, in a meeting or at lunch after popping in at 10:00 with a dapper “hello” and calling us in for a mandatory 10:30 huddle (in the middle of our biggest medication pass) to tell us about the upcoming Christmas party. We throw each other looks when she mentions the $90 price tag to RSVP. She closes with grand rounds on “fascinating nursing research topics” that we’re all invited to; of course none of us will make it because we will be slaving away on the floor.

11:55: I’m mixing antibiotics for a patient who came in with neutropenic fever overnight. We push them over 2-5 minutes via IV because of a normal saline shortage caused by Hurricane Maria. Several weeks ago, management and infection control informed us that we had to be more sparing with the mini-bags and discontinue all “keep vein open” fluids because major Baxter facilities in Puerto Rico were knocked out by the superstorm.

I pull the antibiotics into a syringe, yellow and foaming, and my mind roves to the next items on my list: notify MD of critical lab for 7A, pull methadone for 7B, find IV pump and hang fluids for 10A, return phone call to 8A family member, find out hemodialysis slot for 8B, make sure 9A is chugging the go-lightly for her colonoscopy (and not pouring it down the toilet), fetch blanket for 9B…

“Shit. Forgot the (more…)

Below we’re running an article on a strike that took place in Detroit in 1987.  We’re running it because of what workers here in NZ, and readers around the world, can learn from this dispute.  It’s one where the workers said a resounding “No!” to the company’s demands that they sacrifice conditions and benefits and to the union leaders whose starting point was to make concessions to the employers – and get in the way of workers being able to fight!

This strike against health care giant Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) went against the wider trend in the US workplace at the time, which was to make concessions and not resist, a trend which is very much dominant in the New Zealand workplace thirty years later.  It was also marked by a large degree of rank-and-file control over the struggle and a continuous battle for workers to maintain this control in the face of manoeuvres by the union bureaucracy to take it over – and bring it to an end.

The BCBSM strike also won support from other workers, most particularly auto workers and a number of local officials in the auto workers’ union. 

The Spark is an American Marxist workers’ group which was active in the strike, Detroit historically being one of their main centres of activity. 

by The Spark

Thirty years ago, workers at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) went on strike. Chants of “No contract, no work!” and “Don’t get sick tonight: Blue Cross is on strike!” filled the air in downtown Detroit and at other statewide locations. The strike of approximately 4,000 workers began in September 1987, immediately preceding Labor Day. The strike was not over until winter moved in, eighty-three days later, in November.

The healthcare giant, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, dominated the Michigan health care industry and controlled around 70 percent of the industry statewide at that time. It was demanding major concessions at the bargaining table, taking advantage of the fact that the new 1987 contract would now cover all four local unions in offices around Michigan in a Master Labor Agreement. The company viewed it as an opportunity to impose the worst from all of the former agreements, and then some. They were a paternalistic employer; the majority of employees were women and, like public employees, were considered lucky to have decent benefits that included time off for taking care of family needs, and health care as well. Of course, the wages were not equivalent to wages earned by manufacturing workforces that were predominately male.

In the concessionary drive, earlier unspoken agreements regarding benefits as a trade-off for wages were forgotten, as the bosses came after all they could get. Benefits were at the front of their list. Always a company that believed in the stick before the carrot, BCBSM looked to impose drastic cuts in workers’ sick time off provisions and to eliminate policies that gave women workers some needed flexibility in work start times and in taking increments of time off to attend to personal and family needs. While wages were an issue in the strike, the elimination of time-off provisions and the flexibility to be able to avoid discipline and firing while still maintaining their second job, the family, was foremost in women workers’ minds.

The largest number of workers were housed in Detroit, with almost 3,000 unionized employees and almost as many more who were salaried workers, called “exempts,” meaning they couldn’t be in the union. While the union was comprised of clerical, office and professional employees, the majority of the professionals were non-union. Many of them were not particularly well paid. But they were (more…)